Denali (also known as Mount McKinley, its former official name) is the highest mountain peak in North America, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet (6,190 m) above sea level. At some 18,000 ft (5,500 m), the base-to-peak rise is the largest of any mountain situated entirely above sea level. With a topographic prominence of 20,156 feet (6,144 m) and a topographic isolation of 4,629 miles (7,450 km), Denali is the third most prominent and third most isolated peak after Mount Everest and Aconcagua. Located in the Alaska Range in the interior of the U.S. state of Alaska, Denali is the centerpiece of Denali National Park and Preserve.
Denali West Buttress Expedition
Anyone who has climbed Denali would never say it is easy. Unique to Denali’s rating system is an implied severity grade that makes any route a serious undertaking. High altitude, extreme weather, steep icy slopes, and crevasses combine to make Denali one of the most difficult and severe mountains in the world to climb. To reach the summit of Denali is a worthy achievement that does not come easily and must be sought after with the highest degree of attention to detail and expedition climbing strategy.
Route: West Buttress, 20,320 feet / 6,194 meters, 13,000 feet elevation gain, 41 miles, 21 days.
We climb the West Buttress in traditional expedition style, relaying loads, establishing camps, and climbing slowly enough for proper acclimatization. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The first 9 miles of the route is up the Kahiltna Glacier to 11,000 feet. We typically place 2 or 3 camps on this section. Above 11,000 feet, the terrain is steeper, and we switch from snow shoes to crampons. Advanced base camp is 14,200 feet and located in a large basin relatively sheltered from high winds. We often arrive at 14,200 feet on the 7-9th day. The views of Mt. Hunter and Mt. Foraker from here are amazing. After 4-5 nights acclimatizing, resting, and making a carry to 16,200 feet, we depart for the upper mountain. Between 15,500 feet and 16,200 feet are 40-45° slopes so we climb clipped to a fixed rope to safeguard our movements. We may place a camp at the top of the fixed ropes at 16,200 feet if the weather prevents us from going all the way to high camp. At least at 16’200′ we are able to acclimate further and this camp makes the move to 17,200 feet a short move. The stretch to high camp is the most scenic part of the route and climbs a narrow ridge to 17,200 feet. When rested and in suitable weather, we will go for the summit. Summit day usually takes 10-14 hours.
Weather and snow conditions will ultimately determine our progress on the mountain. This itinerary is a rough guide and outlines a possible schedule. Our style on the mountain is flexible and will fluctuate on a 24 hour basis depending on conditions. With lucky weather, most expeditions return a day or two early. On the other hand, delays at the start with un-flyable weather and storms at high camp may result in running out of time. It is possible at high camp for us to extend the length of the expedition and allow more time for those who wish to tough it out and who have a flexible schedule.
Day 1 2:00 pm meet for the expedition orientation, lunch packing, gear check and issuing.
Day 2 8:00 am meet for skills practice, and National Park Service orientation. 4:00 pm fly to Base Camp, 7,200′, distance: 60 miles, elevation gain: 6850′
Day 3 Base Camp: organize, acclimate, review glacier travel and crevasse rescue, take a deep breath and enjoy the view
Day 4 Single to Ski Hill, Camp 1, 7,800′, distance: 5.5 miles, elevation gain: 600′
Day 5 Carry to Kahiltna Pass, 9,700′, distance: 5 miles, elevation gain: 1900′
Day 6 Move to Kahiltna Pass, Camp 2, 9,700′, distance: 5 miles, elevation gain: 1900′, under the right conditions we may move all the way to 11,000′
Day 7 Single to 11,000′, Camp 3, distance: 1.5 miles, elevation gain: 1300′
Day 8 Rest day
Day 9 Carry to 13,500′ around Windy Corner, distance: 1.75 miles, elevation gain: 2500′
Day 10 Move to 14,200′, Camp IV, distance: 2.75 miles, elevation gain: 3200′
Day 11 Back carry 13,500′ cache, distance: 1 mile, elevation gain: 700′
Day 12 Carry to 16,200′ , distance: 1 mile, elevation gain: 2000′.
Day 13 Rest at 14,200′
Day 14 Move to 16,200 feet or 17,200′, Camp V, distance: 1.75 miles, elevation gain: 3000′
Day 15 Rest day or move to 17,200 feet, Camp VI, distance: 1.75 miles, elevation gain: 3000′
Day 16-19 Summit days, distance: 4 miles, elevation gain: 3120′
Day 20 Return to 14,200 feet or 11,000′, distance: 2.25 miles
Day 21 Return to Base Camp, 7,200′, distance: 11.25 miles, fly back to Talkeetna
Day 22 Weather day
A huge THANK YOU to AMS who guided Tyler during his successful summit of Mt. Denali.